Interview by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Jennifer A. Hoff
Dewi Miyashita & Riri Watanabe
The months of intense heat are finally coming to an end as we enter late autumn. However, we would like to introduce two women originally from Indonesia. Dewi Miyashita, a dancer, and Riri Watanabe, who supports her activities, became very close to each other in Japan—and make us feel like mid-summer is still with us.
We first met them around June of last year (2022). These two bright and cheerful women were helping out with the “Multicultural One Family Festival,” an annual event held in Tokyo by people from various countries. Over time through dinners after planning committee meetings, and being graciously invited to a dance event where Dewi performed, we got to know these unique individuals, who have been dancing and paving out their way of life in Tokyo for the last few decades.
Watch Dewi (left at the beginning) perform magnificent Bali dance in traditional Indonesian ornamented costume!
This year, we finally found an opportunity to interview these two, who have such a strong bond that they call each other “sisters”.
*Interview held at Malaychandua (Higashi-Ikebukuro)
The third fiancé
Dewi: I came to Japan in July 1997. I have lived in Japan for 26 years now. I came to Japan because I married a Japanese man. That’s the same for you, isn’t it, Riri?
Riri: Yes. I came to Japan in October 1999, so it has been almost 24 years. We are both from Jakarta, but we lived as far apart from each other as Shinjuku and Hachioji in Tokyo. So I don’t think we ever passed by each other there (laughs).
Dewi: When I was in Indonesia, I was a mechanical engineer designing piping for buildings. When I was part of a national project to build a power plant, I met my husband, who was an engineering consultant. And we fell in love… no, he liked me (laughs). I originally never imagined that I would marry a Japanese person. Because I had my childhood friend, who eventually became my fiancé. Our fathers were in the same army, but his mother was against the marriage, so we broke it off. After that, I went out with an American man, and we got engaged, but this time my father was against it. Maybe it was because I was his only daughter. After all of this happened, I had given up on getting married, and that was when I met my husband.
Actually, I was not interested in dating him very much. But eventually, I began to feel sorry for him if I didn’t stay with him (laughs).
Riri: I met my husband at a school in Jakarta. The small company I worked for had gone bankrupt, and I started learning French with the little money I had, with the hopes of meeting a French husband (laughs). The school held an event every year on the anniversary of the French Revolution, and he was studying in a different class and was there. I was introduced to him by a friend, and from his looks, I thought he was Indonesian. But since his Indonesian was broken (laughs), we talked to each other in English…not French (laughs). He had studied abroad in the US during his high school years, so his English was fluent and he had an open mind. After his assignment in Indonesia ended, we came to Japan and got married here, just like Dewi. Then we had a child.
“Don’t come back even if you miss home.”
Riri: I didn’t see the people from my country for about 5 years because I had to focus on raising my child after that. I felt so lonely that I was crying and calling my family in Jakarta every two days.
Dewi: Same for me. My husband was traveling around the world even after our marriage, so we didn’t have much time to live together in Japan. Before we got married, my husband told me about this and I said, “I understand,” but the loneliness I felt was more than I expected. While my husband was not home, my mother-in-law helped me with paperwork for the city office, hospitals, etc., while communicating with me through gestures (laughs), and I was very grateful for her kindness.
But I still felt lonely. I was also homesick, and every day I cried and thought to myself, “I want to go back to Indonesia”. Eventually when I reached a point before I was planning on going home, it was actually my father who told me, “You chose to go to Japan, so you should stay there. You are not a child anymore, and you are going to be a mother of a child.”
I reflected on this. From that, I decided to stay in Japan and went to Nagano Prefecture, where my husband’s parents lived. I made friends with people there, gave birth to a child, and raised a child in a place that was entirely new to me. After a six-month stay in Nagano, I returned to Tokyo.
Riri: I lived with my husband’s family for about a year before we bought a house near his parents’ house. While my husband was working, I, who had no friends, went to his parents’ house with my child from morning to night to eat meals prepared by my mother-in-law. I studied Japanese while my child took naps and after we put him to bed. In addition, I learned various words and expressions from my grandfather-in-law and father-in-law. My husband and his family were English speakers, so perhaps I did not need to study Japanese. But if you don’t learn the language, you won’t be able to make friends in Japan, and you might also get on the wrong trains (laughs).
Finally the “sisters” meet
Dewi: I guess my husband felt sorry that he was making me feel lonely. He allowed me to do my hobbies to the fullest. He desperately searched for and found a Balinese dance group so that I would not have to return to my hometown. I began once again to learn Balinese dance, which I had been doing since I was 5 years old, as well as Javanese dance, which I had begun at the age of 9. Furthermore, my husband asked the Indonesian Embassy for me about Indonesian groups in Japan.
Riri: I was browsing the Internet at home when I found a group of Indonesian women whose husbands are from various countries including Japan. Someone I met there took me to an Indonesian restaurant in Nishi-Kasai, Edogawa-ku.
Dewi: At that time when I was dancing with other dancers at the restaurant, I met Riri for the first time.
Riri: I met someone I could call my “big sister” in Japan. I felt my life in Japan brightened up when I met her. From the day I first met her, I became her fan, going to various places to see her performances and taking pictures and videos.
We’ll achieve our dreams. We’ll be together forever.
Dewi: I created my dance group called “Nusantara Indonesian Culture” in 2001. The word “nusantara”, which originally means “islands,” expresses the diversity of my dancers, who came from many different islands in Indonesia.
I raised my child while continuing to dance, and through our activities, we became good friends with the wife of the Indonesian ambassador to Japan. Eventually, when an Indonesian-to-Japanese interpreter was needed for events at the embassy, she asked Riri to do it. At other dance events, Riri attends meetings on my behalf and also does the accounting. My in-laws in Nagano Prefecture also love her, who is such a dependable person.
She grew up as the sixth of seven siblings, but I am an only child. That is why Riri is like the younger sister I never had to me. We always talk about “Let’s do this!” “Let’s do that!”
Riri: We also plan to run this restaurant together. That is our dream right now.
Malaychandua, a Malaysian restaurant where they work is located near Tokyo Metro Higashi-Ikebukuro Station.
Dewi: I want to dance here.
Riri: Yes, she can use her professional skills here. I want to create a place where people can enjoy Malaysian and Indonesian food, culture, and dance in Tokyo—that’s what I want to do.
And I also want to travel around the world.
Dewi: The same for me! I want to go everywhere together with her if I can. We are like a pot and its lid. Around 2009, Riri lived in Penang, Malaysia for about four years because of her husband’s work, but our friendship continued unchanged during that time. If I had not married my husband, I would never have come to Japan or met Riri. Her family lives in the same neighborhood as my friend’s, and both our fathers were in the military. So I guess it was fate that I met my husband.
What is Japan to you, Dewi?
It is a safe and comfortable place to live.
I have met new people and had my eyes open to new cultures here. And Japanese people are also very interested in our culture. I know the audience is very happy with my performances, right, Riri?
I may have had a hard time in Japan, but because of the hardships I had to go through, I am happy now. So I am grateful to everyone in Japan. I am thankful and impressed with this country. And Riri, I love you!
What is Japan to you, Riri?
Japan is my second home. It’s safe and secure. But a little sad.
I grew up in a large family. All family members are open and help each other in times of need. That’s why we are very close.
But in Japan, I feel like families are divided, either because they want to protect their privacy or because they are all too busy. I think Japan would be a better place if people cared more about their families!
Indonesian language PR video for the Multicultural One Family Festival 2022
Dewi’s dance group Nusantara Indonesia Culture will perform live at the festival. It will be held at Plaza Maam in Chuo-ku, Tokyo, on November 5 (Sun), 2023.